When the idea for an image springs vibrantly to mind, the urge is strong to sit right down at the drawing table and try to capture every detail, just as you see it in your mind’s eye. If you’re very good, and very very lucky, you might be able to pull the feat off, right out of the gate.
Most of the time, however, an idea wants some consideration, some massaging before it’s ready to be called “done.” That’s what sketches (doodles, thumbnails, cartoons) are for. They provide you two important steps in the creative process. One, it’s far easier and quicker to jot down in rough form the important elements of your idea, before they evaporate from memory. Two, once you’ve roughed the idea onto a piece of paper, you can take your time to see how the composition might be improved. Perhaps the central figure wants to be larger than you originally thought, or maybe the building you “saw” off on the right side would actually look better on the left. It’s difficult (not to mention frustrating and heartbreaking) to discover you miscalculated an important part of your drawing when you’re three-quarters of the way into the finished image! The great thing about sketches is that you can do as many of them as you want until you settle upon just the right look, just as you want it… and then you can move on to tightening things up.
Get more behind the scenes looks and vintage art in the Art of Elfquest from Flesk Publications.
As you can see, some of the illustrations even wanted more than one initial pencil sketch, to find that “just right” composition. Notice how free and loose the sketches are; this is not the stage for detail, but rather for blocking out who and what goes where. Then Wendy did a set of second, charcoal-pencil sketches – both to start to tighten up in the detail department, and also to get a sense of where areas of light and shadow would be. Finally, she set down the final drawings in pen and ink. Because she knew ahead of time where all the major elements would be, she could then concentrate on the finishing touches, textures and details.
(Click on each image for a larger version.)